Johnson, Robert

Johnson, Robert
born с 1911, Hazlehurst, Miss., U.S.
died Aug. 16, 1938, near Greenwood, Miss.

U.S. blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter.

Born to a sharecropping family, he learned harmonica and guitar, probably influenced by personal contact with Delta bluesmen such as Eddie "Son" House and Charley Patton. He traveled widely throughout the South and as far north as Chicago and New York City, playing at house parties, juke joints, and lumber camps. In 1936–37 he recorded songs by House and others, as well as originals such as "Me and the Devil Blues," "Hellhound on My Trail," and "Love in Vain." He is said to have died, at age 27, after drinking strychnine-laced whiskey (possibly the work of a jealous husband) in a juke joint. His eerie falsetto and masterly slide guitar influenced many later blues and rock musicians.

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▪ 2004

      American businessman Robert L. Johnson, who had spent a quarter of a century building a national identity for Black Entertainment Television (BET), was approved in January 2003 as owner of the newest expansion team of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Johnson had bested an investment group that included basketball legend Larry Bird for ownership of the NBA franchise in Charlotte, N.C. (the city's former team, the Hornets, had just moved to New Orleans). Although he became the first African American majority owner of a major sports team, the soft-spoken hard-driving Johnson regarded it as just another rung on his ladder to increased economic prosperity.

      Johnson was born on April 8, 1946, in Hickory, Miss., and grew up in Freeport, Ill. He was the 9th of 10 children and the first in his family to attend college. He graduated from the University of Illinois in 1968 and, after earning a master's degree from Princeton University, moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Urban League, and a local congressional delegate. He began cultivating valuable political and business connections that later helped him bankroll his vision to create a black cable television company. As a lobbyist for the nascent cable industry from 1976 to 1979, he noticed that the large African American TV audience was going unrecognized and untapped. Johnson built BET from a tiny cable outlet, airing only two hours of programming a week in 1980, to a broadcasting giant that claimed an audience of more than 70 million households.

      In 1991 BET became the first black-controlled company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. BET thrived in the 1990s, despite lawsuits from competitors and former employees, and added more cable channels, a film division, a publisher, and a Web site. Viewership expanded along with the product line, while major media companies began to invest. Throughout the decade Johnson also attempted to purchase basketball franchises in Washington, D.C., and Charlotte. After taking BET private again in 1998, Johnson and his partners sold BET Holdings to the giant media group Viacom in 2001 for some $3 billion, though he was kept on at BET as CEO. The sale made him the first African American billionaire. Johnson then formed the umbrella group RLJ Companies, which operated widely in the media, sports, gaming, real estate, and hospitality industries.

      In June 2003 the NBA franchise (which would begin competition in 2004) was given the name Bobcats, befitting its owner, who was known to his friends as Bob. Johnson's purchase, estimated at $300 million, also included the Sting, the Women's National Basketball Association team in Charlotte. The city gave Johnson a warm welcome and broke ground on the construction of a new basketball stadium, while Johnson reciprocated in May with a $1 million donation to a local YMCA community centre.

Tom Michael

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▪ American musician
born c. 1911, , Hazlehurst, Miss., U.S.
died Aug. 16, 1938, near Greenwood, Miss.

      American blues composer, guitarist, and singer whose eerie falsetto singing voice and masterful, rhythmic slide guitar influenced both his contemporaries and many later blues and rock musicians.

      Born into the large family of a sharecropper, Johnson was reared in Memphis, Tenn., and near Robinsonville, Miss. He learned to play the harmonica and then the guitar, probably influenced both by recordings and by personal contact with Eddie “Son” House, Charley Patton (Patton, Charley), Willie Brown, and other well-known Mississippi Delta bluesmen. He traveled widely throughout Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, and Tennessee and as far north as Chicago and New York, playing at house parties, juke joints, and lumber camps and on the street. In 1936–37 he made a series of recordings in San Antonio and Dallas, Tex. His repertoire included several blues songs by House and others, but Johnson's original numbers, such as “Me and the Devil Blues,” “Hellhound on My Trail,” and “Love in Vain” are his most compelling pieces. Despite the limited number of his recordings, Johnson had a major impact on other musicians, including Muddy Waters (Waters, Muddy) and Elmore James.

      Johnson died of poisoning after drinking strychnine-laced whisky in a juke joint.

▪ English musician
born c. 1583, England
died c. 1633, London, England

      British composer and lutenist, who wrote music for a number of plays, including several by William Shakespeare (Shakespeare, William), and was considered one of England's leading lutenists.

      Johnson was believed to be the son of John Johnson, a composer who was also a lutenist to Elizabeth I. From 1596 to 1603 he was indentured to Sir George Carey, 2nd Lord Hunsdon, and during this time he began studying music. He later became a court musician, serving as lutenist to James I (1604–25) and later Charles I (1625–33), and in 1628 he was named to the post of composer for the “lute and voices.” His successor was appointed on November 26, 1633, leading modern scholars to speculate that Johnson died shortly before that date.

      About 1607 Johnson began working with the King's Men (previously known as Chamberlain's Men (Lord Chamberlain's Men)), an opportunity that likely came about through his relationship with Carey, who had earlier served as the theatrical company's patron. The troupe was closely associated with Shakespeare, and Johnson wrote ayres (solo songs featuring lute accompaniment) for several of his plays, including Cymbeline (1609–10) and The Winter's Tale (Winter's Tale, The) (1610–11). "Full fathom five" and "Where the bee sucks," perhaps his best-known songs, are from The Tempest (Tempest, The) (c. 1611). He also provided music for John Webster (Webster, John)'s The Duchess of Malfi (c. 1612/13) and a number of plays by Francis Beaumont (Beaumont, Francis) and John Fletcher (Fletcher, John). Johnson's ayres, which were typically declamatory in style, drew praise for their ability to establish character and mood. His compositions for the lute, of which about 20 are extant, were written for the 9- or 10-course Renaissance lute and utilized the instrument's full range. Johnson also collaborated, often with Ben Jonson (Jonson, Ben), on music for court masques, and his other works include dances, catches, and anthems.

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Universalium. 2010.

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